A 2020 summary of how the Laptops for Kids campaign is helping Sheffield’s next generation

Over the past nine months, thousands of young people in Sheffield have been left unable to complete their school work from not having access to a computer or the Internet.

Friday, 18th December 2020, 4:45 pm

As schools closed and learning moved online, the pandemic only exacerbated the digital divide and children were left falling behind.

The Government failed to deliver enough support, which is why the Laptops for Kids campaign was launched by The Star, WANdisco and Learn Sheffield in September.

David Richards, founder and CEO of WANdisco, said: “Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not and the pandemic is worsening social and economic inequalities.

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Assistant headteacher James Mills, with Castro Hart-Richards and Vikki Hart, pictured with a laptop at Athelstan Primary School.

“We must stop young people falling further behind just because they cannot log on for homework.

“It’s a tragic waste of potential and is storing up worrying problems for the future.”

An estimated 11,000 children in Sheffield have no access to a device - across the UK, it equates to nearly one in 10 children.

The idea behind Laptops for Kids - now a charitable organisation - is to provide all children with access to equipment and technology they need to succeed in their education, by bringing together a group of like minded organisations, each providing unique expertise at different stages of the process.

Laptops for Kids campaign launch in Sheffield. David Richards with Abtisam Mohamed Labour Councillor for the Firth Park Ward Cabinet Member for Education and Skills.

How the process works:

- Businesses and individuals pledge to donate laptops, tablets, desktops and chargers via the Laptops for Kids website - donors can securely erase devices themselves or alternatively, the campaign can arrange for the certified secure erasure of devices.

- Donors drop off their devices at locations in central Sheffield including Cutlers’ Hall, Twinkl and Learn Sheffield.

- For devices with data erasure needs, students at The Sheffield College securely erase devices under the guidance of experts at the WANdisco Data Academy. They are using licences and certification donated by data security firm, Blancco. Students learn about data security, supply chain management and contributing to the community as part of work experience.

City Taxis dropping off its donation at Cutlers' Hall.

- Once certifiably clean, the devices are equipped with educational software and a free subscription to Natterhub, a digital literacy platform to introduce children to online safety.

- Learn Sheffield is then ready to distribute the certified erased devices to schools, according to need.

A short while later, it was announced that the Northern Powerhouse Partnership was lending its support to the campaign.

It was hoped that the partnership of business and civic leaders would help source more laptops using its network of member organisations across the North.

Henri Murison, director of Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Businesses have the power to help bridge this gap by donating unused laptops to the Laptops for Kids campaign. This will give many of the most vulnerable children a better chance at fulfilling their potential.”

Lawyers from DLA Piper - one of the UK’s biggest law firms - became some of the first donors, donating almost 20 laptops.

Petra Billing, office managing partner at DLA Piper in Sheffield, said: “We are delighted to donate unused laptops to help close the digital divide in Sheffield and create more chances for young people to succeed in life.”

Benchmark Recruit - a specialist recruitment agency which champions ethical recruiting - contributed a total of five laptops towards helping to close the ‘digital divide’.

Louisa Harrison-Walker, the founder of Benchmark Recruit, called for other businesses to donate, adding: “We must not sit by and allow a generation of young people to be sidelined.”

In October, it was announced that individuals could also donate, as it was found that thousands of young people were still without access to a computer or the Internet.

A taskforce of business and civic leaders was created to help scale up the campaign, working together to help promote it and develop its supply chain.

In November, a donation boost came from Westfield Health who donated a total of 70 used compact PCs, and City Taxis who donated a further 31 laptops.

David Capper, chief executive of Westfield Health, said: "Not having access to a computer not only worsens inequality, it impacts wellbeing. That’s why we’re proud to be getting involved with such an important campaign.”

Managing director of City Taxis, Arnie Singh, added: “Children are having to isolate so creating access to digital teaching is paramount. Anyone can help out.”

Donations from businesses, individuals and charities have now begun to help families across Sheffield.

The first family to receive a laptop were the Akhtar’s, who live in Nether Edge. Mother-of-five Salma, told how it ‘really helped us as a family’.

Another family - a single mother-of-three - is now able to help her children ‘make a better future for themselves’ thanks to the laptop they received. The children were previously doing their school work via a mobile phone with limited data and patchy internet coverage.

The latest family to receive a laptop was Vikki Hart, mum to seven-year-old Castro and two younger boys.

Castro, who attends Athelstan Primary School, near Sheffield Parkway, was one of six recipients at the school.

Donations are being distributed as they come in and it is hoped that businesses and individuals continue to make donations and spread the word about the Laptops for Kids campaign.

Olympic gold medallist, Dame Jess Ennis-Hill recently tweeted a message of support.

Sheffield MPs, alongside others, have also urged businesses and individuals to donate their old devices.

The Laptops for Kids campaign model is currently being perfected in Sheffield and it is hoped that it can eventually be rolled out in South Yorkshire and beyond.

For more information, visit: www.LTFK.co.uk

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.